In the 90s, when the World of Darkness became the hottest thing in RPGs, I was on the outside looking in. My friends went off to college, and our gaming got more and more sporadic. That meant that I didn’t really want to spend time learning a new system and exploring what all of this was about. In addition, the “hot new thing” that my friends brought back home from college was Shadowrun.
When I got back into RPGs in the early 2000s, all of the people that played in World of Darkness games were very into the lore. It was intimidating to me, because it wasn’t just about “knowing” things, it was about “doing it right.” It felt like there was some special vibe that you had to understand, and that intimidated me more than reading twenty to thirty books just to know what was going on.
I mention that, because Hunter the Reckoning is something that should have been right up my alley. I love modern urban fantasy, and I really love monster hunting stories. But I was afraid it was tangled up in this vibe that I just might not get if I wasn’t on the inside of the World of Darkness. But now, more than a decade later, I’m much less likely to get put off by the “vibe” at the FLGS, and much more interested in forming my own opinions. And we just happen to have a new edition of Hunter the Reckoning on the shelves.
I purchased my own copy of the Hunter the Reckoning RPG for this review, and was not provided a review copy. I have not had the opportunity to play the game, but I have experience playing Chronicles of Darkness and Storyteller System games, which have some similar touchstones. I have also played in games run by one of the playtesters listed in the credits, but not with this particular material.
Hunter the Reckoning
Written by Justin Achilli, Daniel Braga, Johnathan Byerly, Edward Austin Hall, Karim Muammar, Mario Ortegón, Pam Punzalan, and Erin Roberts
Advice for Considerate Play appendix by Jacqueline Bryk
Editing and Indexing by Ronni Radner
Concept Diversity Consultancy and Diversity Reading by Maple Intersectionality Consulting
Art Director: Tomas Arfert
Cover Art: Mark Kelly, Paulina Westerling, Tomas Arfert
Interior Art and Illustration: Tomas Arfert, Krzysztof Bieniawski, Lloyd Drake-Brockman, Raquel Cornejo, Mirko Failoni, Per Gradin, Mark Kelly, Ronja Melin, Anders Muammar, Paulina Westerling
Graphic Design and Layout: Tomas Arfert
Proofreading: Jason Carl, Dhaunae De Vir, Sean Greaney, Karim Muammar, Amanda “Huddy” Huddleston, Martyna “Outstar” Zych
Pages in the Journal
This review is based on the PDF version of the book, which is 288 pages. These pages include a credits page, a table of contents, two pages of opening fiction, a two-page index, a two-page character sheet, two pages of blank stationary from organizations in the setting, and a two-page spread of live models in lighting that matches the color scheme of the book.
The book itself is primarily laid out in a two-column layout. I’m happy to see this change from the Vampire 5e core rulebook, because I’ll freely admit that I’m biased. Three column layout makes it really hard for me to follow text. The book is laid out in black, white, and orange themes. Much of the artwork is black and white with orange color splashes for emphasis.
On the Inside
The book has the following sections:
- Chapter One: A Coming Reckoning
- Chapter Two: Characters
- Chapter Three: Edges and Equipment
- Chapter Four: Rules
- Chapter Five: Storytelling
- Chapter Six: Supernatural Threats
- Chapter Seven: Rival Organizations
- Appendix: Advice for Considerate Play
Past and Present
One thing that I wanted to address right off the top is the change in focus for this version of Hunter the Reckoning. While I didn’t play previous versions of the game, I knew a little bit about the core concepts, and I have seen some of the online discussions about the game. If you are a fan of the previous material, you may want to be aware of one of the changes to the game.
In this version of Hunter the Reckoning, you are playing mortal hunters. There are some edges that might give you abilities that touch on supernatural powers, but without taking any of those, you are playing human beings caught up in a supernatural world and driven to hunt the monsters that you know exist.
This differs from the original version of the game, where characters would come in contact with Heralds and become Imbued, basically meaning that hunters were their own flavor of supernatural being. Because I like to wear my biases on my sleeve, I’ll say that I like this change, and I prefer to have a little more distance between the supernatural and the Hunters that this game assumes. You may want to keep all of that in mind as you read on.
For anyone familiar with the World of Darkness games, I doubt you would be shocked to find out that this is a d10 dice pool-based game. Characters have Attributes and Skills. When making tests, characters add together a relevant Attribute with a relevant Skill, and roll that many d10s. Each of them that comes up six or higher is a success. If the player rolls a number of successes equal to the difficulty of a task, they succeed.
Advantages and Flaws are ranked just like Attributes and Skills. Unlike Attributes and Skills, Advantages and Flaws aren’t often used to roll dice pools (although they are in some cases), but instead, at different rankings, they grant different benefits or disadvantages.
Edges and Perks are sort of one-off abilities. Edges grant access to Perks, so a character that has an Edge can then pick up multiple Perks associated with that Edge. Edges and Perks might grant a Hunter more reliable access to weapons, vehicles, or gear, a better chance to gain relevant information when researching, or even the ability to work with natural animals.
Endowments are Edges and Perks that skirt into the supernatural. This involves sensing supernatural creatures, the ability to ward against the presences of the supernatural, or even the ownership of an artifact with supernatural ability. There are multiple ways that these abilities can manifest. For example, a character with strong faith may ward against the supernatural by presenting a holy symbol, which is an extension of their Endowment, not necessarily a weakness native to a supernatural creature.
Weapons and armor are fairly simple to express. Weapon damage adds damage after an opposed roll between an attacker and a defender, and armor reduces damage that the wearer takes. The game also presents some upgrades, like incendiary rounds that cause fire damage whenever a round hits a target, which can be pretty useful against monsters that are flammable (including vampires).
The equipment chapter also gives you a brief glimpse of the state-of-the-art monster detecting equipment used by larger organizations, which can detect creatures with no heartbeat and things with excessive extra dimensional energy.
Characters have Health and Willpower, which measures their physical and mental ability to keep going, respectively. Standard damage heals quickly, while Aggravated damage takes more time, and may even require special steps that need to be taken before healing can happen. While most edged, heavy, or ballistic weapons are going to do Aggravated damage to humans, finding out a monster’s weakness is part of the process of learning how to deal with a threat, as those weaknesses often allow Hunters to deal Aggravated damage to the supernatural threat in question. Willpower can be spent to allow for rerolls, but it can also be spent when monsters do things like causing fear or dominating a character, so they can ignore the effects of those conditions.
Bonus points awarded by me for referencing a George Carlin bit when it comes to the section on flamethrowers.
Hunter’s Signature Rules
Much as Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition introduces Hunger Dice to represent the unique threat of a vampire losing control of their Hunger, Hunter the Reckoning uses Desperation Dice to represent the growing chaos of dangerous situations Hunters may find themselves within.
The Desperation pool may go up at the end of a scene based on a number of questions about what happened in that scene. For example, Hunters taking serious harm, allowing their quarry to escape, or failing to stop the quarry from harming innocents may cause the Desperation pool to go up. But Desperation can work in the Hunter’s favor. If a Hunter can explain why their Drive is pushing them to take an action, they may add the Desperation dice to their die pool. If they do this, any 1s add to the Danger pool, and two or more 1s cause the Hunter to fall into Despair. Characters in Despair can’t use their drive to access the Desperation pool until they have taken a specific action that essentially clears their head and reinvigorates them.
The Danger Pool can be added to the difficulty of some situations. For example, it might be harder to gather information as the Danger Pool goes up, or at different Danger levels, different events might trigger, like an antagonist adding bodyguards to their retinue, or the antagonist being moved to put a Hunter’s ally or contact in danger.
The Setting (and the Perspective)
The setting is, not surprisingly, the World of Darkness. That means that this game takes place in the same world where Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition is set, as well as the same world where the upcoming new version of Werewolf the Apocalypse will take place. That said, the perspective of the characters is decidedly mortal, and they are more likely to know about the Organizations or Orgs that also hunt, detail, or regulate monsters than they are the deep underpinnings of vampire or werewolf society.
The supernatural is a secret that is just barely under the surface of the world. There are airport scanners that can detect vampires and alert federal agencies when they get off an airplane. There are international collaborative efforts to share information about monsters between the agencies of various nations, and Homeland Security has vampires listed as terrorists.
There are branches of the FBI dedicated to handling vampire threats, and an organization that nominally answers to the DoD that might recruit hunters or even the supernatural to protect American interests against other supernatural threats. We also get some glimpses of the government anti-monster forces from Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines. There is a long-established Vatican affiliated monster hunting order, as well as a cult of purity that seeks to not only rid the world of monsters, but also of any actions that lead to disharmony. Corporations don’t get left out either, as there are private security firms that specialize in monster hunting, companies that develop mass produced weapons and gear for monster hunting groups, and even a company using a gig based app to help people get revenge on the monsters that may have harmed them or their loved ones.
The game assumes that your Hunters will not belong to an org, although they may have in the past. The focus is on individual cells trying to hunt monsters while also threading the needle between the interests of the various orgs, that may help, hinder, or complicate the lives of the hunters. It’s made clear that the orgs all have something going against them that makes them less than desirable employers. Some of them may only seek to gain information about monsters, but not eliminate them. Others may be only working to control the supernatural rather than eliminate it. Still others are very narrow about how humanity itself should be living their lives.
Hunters come from various creeds. Essentially, the creeds are the general mindset and approach a Hunter uses when adopting the lifestyle, including the following:
There are nuances to all of these creeds. The Entrepreneurial may not just be about monetizing their monster hunting, but about making sure the cell can pay its bills and afford to do research on how to hunt monsters more efficiently. The Faithful may have a complicated relationship with orgs that have similar beliefs. The Inquisitive might get in trouble because they are looking for the “big picture,” while threats right in front of them may be endangering them. The Martial is less likely to do long term planning if they feel they have the tools they need and can act right now. The Underground may be in so much trouble that they can only reach out to others that are on the wrong side of the law, but this can also provide cells with more resources than they might otherwise have.
The difference between Hunters and hunters isn’t a supernatural ability to hunt monsters, but the fact that Hunters have a Drive. The hunters that work for orgs might not like monsters, or they may like the paycheck they get for fighting them. They might feel like they are doing the right thing in fighting creatures of the night. But Hunters have a Drive that pushes them to fight monsters, which ties in with The Reckoning. The Reckoning is the belief that the world is at a pivotal moment, and the darker side of the supernatural has to be opposed now, or else it may be too late to avert a disaster.
Much of what differentiates Hunter the Reckoning from monster hunting games without a built-in setting is the relationship of the Hunters with the orgs. You can use the rules to hunt a different monster each session, but that misses some of what makes the setting unique. Orgs might hire the cell as temporary freelancers, only to hang them out to dry. The cell might have a dedicated org team as recurring rivals, or they may even steal some of the toys that have been developed by the bigger orgs with the big budgets when they really need the upper hand.
The example threats help to shape the narrative of Hunter. There are general stats for things like vampires and werewolves, but there are also named, unique threats from a variety of locations. Vampires and werewolves aren’t framed in terms of what clan or tribe they are from, and they don’t reference the politics of their social structure. Hunters work hard just to learn about the weaknesses of various monsters, let alone find out about deep social structures.
Monsters have simplified expressions for their statistics. Rather than having specific Attributes and Skills, they have Standard Dice Pools for Physical, Social, and Mental tasks. They also have Abilities and Weaknesses. These include Regenerate (recover X amount of health per turn), or Vulnerability (Damage from this source is Aggravated and can’t be Regenerated), as well as other Abilities and Weaknesses.
Most of the example vampires and werewolves presented are loners that have broken off from wider organizations. You might find a loner vampire running a criminal empire, or one that is a bizarre mutated experiment. A werewolf might be an old creature ready to go down in a blaze of glory, that has learned to become invisible in the shadows, or a vigilante werewolf that takes offense when they see Confederate flags or belligerently jingoistic folk.
There are also sorcerers, people using magic they don’t understand, ghosts with unique stories, science experiments, and fey adjacent predators. The main unifying factor is that the Hunters will need to do research to learn about who is getting harmed, by what, and how to stop it. Not every monster needs to be destroyed. For example, some ghosts really just need to know that some loose end from their life will be addressed.
This section of the book is great from an expectation setting standpoint, and also one of the roughest parts of the ruleset. Mechanically, monsters use a simplified version of the rules used for the game itself, which makes them easy to reskin and relatively easy to run. Where the difficulty comes is the narrative elements.
On the up side, this section doesn’t present the United States as the center of the universe, with plot hooks from various places like Mexico and the Philippines as well. The downside is that some narratives can be much more fraught depending on the context in which they are presented.
Out of context, some of the scenarios can make other countries seem more prone to corruption than America, frame immigrants as victims, use transplant recipients as victims, and presents a handsome male presenting creature that is pansexual as a dangerous individual that takes out their frustration about not knowing what they want in a mate as the motive for their supernatural assaults.
As an example, many of the narratives present supernatural events happening in economically disadvantaged areas. The plot hooks around the Philippines and Mexico introduce a lot of government corruption, and there are a few recurring situations where migrants attempting to reach the US are put in danger, or are flat out murdered. In at least one of these situations, there is almost a whimsical aspect to the supernatural threat that is in stark contrast to how characters are introduced to the existence of the threat, that being a migrant woman dying in childbirth.
I don’t doubt that the designers adding these story hooks were trying to diversify the range of possible stories. The problem I have is that if you have Hunters from outside of the communities being presented resolving these situations, it’s really easy to devolve into a White Savior narrative. While I think you can create a satisfying narrative about opposing monsters that prey on the disenfranchised and vulnerable, there are a lot of narratives that revolve around that assumption, and I feel like there needs to be a little more in the way of guidance to avoid the pitfalls of those narrative elements.
I want to be clear in saying that I don’t think any of these story hooks are automatically bad, just that with the current state of the modern world, it would be very easy to fall into harmful tropes if the Storyteller isn’t careful about how they use these hooks.
There are a few sections in the book that deal with setting expectations. The first section that deals with this is in the Storytelling section, under Chronicle Tenets. There are four examples of these tenets in this section, and they set the expectations for the campaign. For example, is it just known to all of the Hunters that you don’t endanger innocents? Is the story going to feature redemption arcs? Is the story going to explore the vices that the Hunters indulge to make their lives more bearable, in light of the horrific supernatural events they have seen?
The next section that deals with this is the Advice for Considerate Play Appendix, which is six pages long, and deals with topics like safety tools at the table, what is and isn’t acceptable as part of the story, and how to talk about uncomfortable situations that come up in play. In addition to presenting calibration techniques and active safety tools for play, there is also a section for additional reading.
Given the tone of the setting, and the general horror genre, I think these are both important sections to include, and both sections are well done. Because they focus on empathy and player driven calibration, I do think they still fall a little short of addressing some of the potential context issues in the Supernatural Threats chapter, but paying close attention to this section and having an open play environment will definitely help to de-escalate situations that might arise from mismatched expectations and context.
Closing In I like the way that the Desperation system is similar to, but distinct from, the Hunger dice in Vampire, and I’m thrilled that the Orgs presented help to frame a very distinct monster hunting setting within a genre that has a lot of different options.
I have to admit, other games that are connected to World of Darkness properties feel like they sometimes present relatively simple rules in ways that make them feel less transparent. This text does a good job of avoiding that pitfall, and making the systems and subsystems very clear. I like the way that the Desperation system is similar to, but distinct from, the Hunger dice in Vampire, and I’m thrilled that the Orgs presented help to frame a very distinct monster hunting setting within a genre that has a lot of different options.
I think the Supernatural Threats chapter is extremely ambitious when it comes to providing deeper, meaningful story hooks, but a little more discussion about what context could be harmful would help immensely. While I think this is very player friendly when it comes to people’s first contact with World of Darkness games, it’s really easy to establish some truths in a Hunter game that may not line up with the greater World of Darkness, if those new players engage with the wider product line.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
If you are a fan of modern urban fantasy and monster hunting, I think this will be an easy recommendation, although it’s important to understand the potential tone of the setting before picking up the game. Even if you don’t employ the story elements involved, some of the content can be heavy to engage. I’m also interested to see how well people will transition from what is essentially a “lighter touch” regarding lore as they transition from this game to Vampire, if they choose to do so.
What kind of urban fantasy do you enjoy? If you enjoy monster hunting, what are your favorite examples of media that involves monster hunters? We want to hear from you in the comments below!